Generally, I dislike writing reviews. Movies and TV shows take a long time to settle in, for me, and by the time I feel really comfortable trusting my feelings and capable of expressing my thoughts, the review is no longer relevant. In the case of Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens, however, I was moved to write immediately, for several reasons. First and foremost, I want to provide a largely spoilerless review – something I’ve seen an oddly small number of. Second of all, I want to bring balance to our site. Things are just a little too negative in here for my tastes.
As I’ll be doing this on the fly, and avoiding spoilers wherever possible, this will admittedly be more about the feelings the film elicited within me than about the film itself. It’s not so much a traditional review as it is a stream of consciousness on what about the film captivated me so completely. Some small spoilers are inevitable, but I’ll avoid anything major. It’s also a lot rougher than I’d like, but I feel that in this case, time is of the essence! With no further delay, I present my thoughts and feelings on what is likely the most heavily anticipated film of all time.
The Force Awakens is a film about rebuilding. As I watched, I was struck again and again by that feeling of reconstruction. From the villainous First Order, rising from the ashes of the Empire, to Finn, rising from the wreckage of his own life, to Rey, living in the literal ruins of the wars of the past, every character and faction is seeking to make something old new again. The symbolism is obvious, of course, drawing parallels to the state of the franchise itself. The question asked again and again in the film, and answered in spades, is this: Can it be done? Can you take the ruins and build upon them? Can Star Wars live again, in the hearts of its fans? The answer is a resounding yes.
The plot and actions of many scenes closely or directly mirror much of the original trilogy, to varying degrees. More than that, the characters and their relationships echo as well. A Sith apprentice follows the guidance of a grim, malformed master. A pilot must lead a rebellion in war against a massive super-weapon capable of destruction of an unfathomable level. A young Jedi slowly discovers the power within, needing a master to help them bloom. The characters of the past return, and are afforded the honor they deserve. Han, Leia, Chewbacca and more all step forward for their moments in the spotlight, but know when it’s time to bow and step aside. The old is shown much love, and used as a template for the entire film.
Don’t, however, make the mistake of believing that reusing of the old is a negative thing. After all, George Lucas himself, when creating the original film, drew on many old stories to fill out his world. He even went so far as to use footage of dogfights from older films and wars, replicating them point for point for his own use. The entirety of Star Wars is a reconstruction of old genre favorites. He borrowed from Samurai films, war films, adventure films, and space operas liberally. What made the film work was that dash of imagination, that extra spark of new to bring it to life. That spark is alive and well in The Force Awakens.
The new characters aren’t simple 1:1 stand-ins for the old. They step into the old roles, but bring their own shoes rather than attempt to fill those of their predecessors. Finn is funny and engaging. He’s quick witted, open-hearted, and likable. Poe Dameron felt a little underdeveloped, but he quickly proved himself to be entertaining and fun to have around. Rey is a wonderful character. She’s tough as durasteel, and devoted to people who try and do the right thing, even in the face of her own pressing needs and desires. She shows a sweet side that Princess Leia never quite managed. Kylo Ren… boy oh boy, Kylo Ren.
Here is a villain the likes of which we have never seen before in Star Wars. He shows himself to be immensely powerful from his first appearance, wielding the Force in ways I’ve never seen. He’s threatening, he commands attention whenever he enters the room, and above all, he is INSANE. He’s wildly unstable, prone to fits of rage and extreme violence. His thoughts are as jagged and wild as the saber he wields in battle. For every inch of cold calculation displayed by Darth Vader, a yard of white hot rage is spewed by Ren. In the past, Vader was driven to the Dark Side of the Force by tragedy and loss. Though it’s true that he embraced it, he didn’t seek it out. He was seduced to it. While we don’t yet know his whole story, throughout the entire film, I got the impression that Ren was a wannabe. He was a person with genuine good inside him, who, instead of struggling with it, struggles to CRUSH it. He wants to be Darth Vader. He wants to be evil, a Dark Lord of the Sith, and he wants it so badly that he is making the conscious choice to do cruel things, to go against everything he knows to be right. He’s not misguided. He hasn’t been seduced. He wants to be something he isn’t, and it’s destroying him. His thought process is childish and profane, and it terrifies me.
Throughout all the films, I’ve wondered what was so bad about the Sith and the Dark Side of the Force. I see the Jedi’s way of crushing emotion and attachment as a bit extreme. I’ve seen people like the Emperor and Vader in shades of grey. After all, they did bring the galaxy peace, and Anakin’s fall was born of love. I’d ask myself, “What could be so bad about embracing your emotions?” The answer is finally shown to me in Kylo Ren. For the first time in the history of Star Wars, I was repulsed by the Dark Side.
The action in the film is truly wonderful. They took the very best of what the prequels had to offer in terms of action and special effects, and then dialed them back to fit more in line with the original trilogy. The dog fights and space battles were fun and engaging, but never so crowded that they became confused. The ground battles and use of lightsabers were well choreographed and acrobatic, but only to an extent. Gone was the overblown spectacle of Episode III, and gone was the stiff and robotic “old man vs robot” battle of Episode IV. What we had was a perfect balance between the two.
Episode VII is a film that knows exactly what role it needs to hold, and does it well. It takes the ruins of a franchise that is beloved the world over, and uses them to build a bridge between the past and future. It shows us that with a little ingenuity and a lot of trust, what we love can be preserved while being used as the foundation for something new. It’s a love letter to the original trilogy, a grudging acknowledgement of the elements of the prequels that did work, and among it all you can see the beginnings of something wonderful. The charm was back. The fantasy was back. Star Wars is back.
This film does one thing above all else, for me. It gives me hope that the Force will be with us. Always.